State Fact Sheet

Public Safety in Utah

This page was updated on June 16, 2016, to reflect new data.

In June 2016, state leaders announced the formation of the interbranch Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group, which will conduct a data-driven examination of the state’s juvenile justice system and issue a comprehensive set of policy recommendations aimed at protecting public safety, holding youth accountable, containing costs, and improving outcomes for juveniles, families, and communities. The working group, which will receive technical assistance from Pew as it evaluates data and correctional practices and develops policy proposals, will report to the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) and will submit its findings and policy recommendations to state leaders on Dec. 1 for consideration during the 2017 legislative session.

Although Utah reduced its juvenile commitment rate by 54 percent from 2001 to 2013, the state spent more than $50 million on out-of-home placements in fiscal year 2014, and recidivism rates among youth released from state custody remain stubbornly high: About half are charged with a new offense within one year.

The launch of the working group builds on the passage in 2015 of H.B. 348, a far-reaching set of criminal justice reforms that were based on recommendations from the CCJJ. The commission, which consulted with a variety of stakeholders and received intensive technical assistance from Pew as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, found that Utah’s prison population had grown by 22 percent over the previous decade, pushing corrections costs to more than $250 million annually. It further concluded that the size and expense of the prison system had not brought state taxpayers adequate public safety results: Nearly half of offenders who left Utah prisons (46 percent) were back within three years. Without reform, the prison population was projected to grow by another 37 percent by 2034.

H.B. 348, which prioritized expensive prison beds for serious and violent offenders, strengthened probation and parole systems, and expanded offender reentry and treatment programs, passed both chambers of the Legislature by overwhelming majorities. In addition to improving public safety by reducing recidivism rates, the law is expected to eliminate nearly all of the projected growth in the prison population over the next two decades and save the state more than $500 million.

The prison gates must be a permanent exit from the system, not just a revolving door. Governor Gary Herbert